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Ron the Greek Rolls in Sunshine Millions Classic

The Florida Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park Saturday featured a much anticipated showdown between Mucho Macho Man and Ron the Greek.

The 1-2 finishers in last year’s edition of the signature event of the six-race $1.3 million showcase for Florida-breds never had a chance to square off against each other. Just before the rematch was expected to get heated, as the field rounded the turn into the stretch, defending champion Mucho Macho Man stopped suddenly as Ron the Greek surged to the lead on his way to a breathtaking 11 1/4-length victory.

Ron the Greek

Ron the Greek

The 2012 Sunshine Millions Classic runner-up to Mucho Macho Man completed 1 1/8 miles over a sloppy track in an impressive 1:49.19 under jockey Jose Lezcano.

“He’s run good on an off track before, however, he didn’t run good on a sticky track in the Jockey Club,” said trainer Bill Mott, whose 6-year-old warrior finished sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup before running a troubled fourth, more than six lengths behind runner-up Mucho Macho Man, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “He ran well today. He liked this. He didn’t mind it.”

Mucho Macho Man, whose last off-the-board finish came over a sloppy track in the 2011 Belmont Stakes, was eased across the finish line by jockey Mike Smith.

“He put his head in the air and stopped,” said Smith of the 2-5 favorite’s sudden stopping “I have no idea.”

After examining Mucho Macho Man back at her barn, trainer Kathy Ritvo found no reason for her 5-year-old’s uncharacteristic performance.

“I can’t find anything wrong with him,” she said. “I think he didn’t like the track.”

Mucho Macho Man didn’t get the best of trips during the early going either. After breaking alertly, he was passed on the inside by longshot I’m Steppin’ It Up, who carried the favorite extremely wide heading into the first turn. Mucho Macho Man seemed to settle just behind the dueling I’m Steppin’ It Up and Fort Loudon along the backstretch, while Ron the Greek saved ground along the rail well within striking distance of the leaders.

Fort Loudon took over the lead leaving the backstretch with Mucho Macho Man in pursuit. However, just when the son of Macho Uno was expected to make his move to the lead on the final turn, he gave way, leading Smith to stop riding him. Meanwhile, Ron the Greek hit his full stride and powered his way to a lead that would only lengthen to the wire.

“It was a good set-up. He was a little closer than he normally is. We had asked (Lezcano), if he could, to try to be a little closer. I didn’t expect him to be that close. I thought he might ride him away from there a little bit and the closest he’d be there was 12 length,” Mott said. “I guess they headed down the backside and he’s five, six lengths off the lead. It looked like was in the bridle and running well. He put him in a drive and he shook loose, and the rest is history.”

Ron the Greek, who captured the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) following his runner-up finish in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic last year, was the only horse to beat Wise Dan last year, heading the turf star in the Clark Handicap (G1) over Churchill’s main track.

“They always say Wise Dan got beat, but they never say who beat him. They’re always mentioning that he got beat and it was on the dirt, but they forget to say who beat him,” Mott said with a chuckle. “I’d like to get a little more PR for Ron. We love Ron.”

Ron the Greek earned $240,000 for the Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack T. Hammer in his first start of his 2013 campaign.

“We’re looking ahead and maybe try to repeat what we did last year, maybe go back to California for the Santa Anita Handicap and try to do that over again,” Mott said.

Ron the Greek/Coglianese photo